The pilot episode, “Hot Snow“, aired on 7 January 1961. The final Episode, “Bizarre”, aired on 21 May 1969.
The Avengers was produced by ABC Television, a contractor within the ITV network. After a merger in July 1968 ABC Television became Thames Television, which continued production of the series although it was still broadcast under the ABC name. By 1969 The Avengers was shown in more than 90 countries. ITV produced a sequel series The New Avengers (1976–1977) with Patrick Macnee returning as John Steed, and two new partners.
In 2007 The Avengers was ranked #20 on TV Guide‘s Top Cult Shows Ever.
1961: With Dr David Keel (Ian Hendry)
The Avengers began in the episode Hot Snow, with medical doctor, Dr David Keel (Ian Hendry), investigating the murder by a drug ring of his fiancée and office receptionist Peggy. A stranger named John Steed, who was investigating the ring, appeared and together they set out to avenge her death in the first two episodes. Afterwards, Steed asked Keel to partner him as needed to solve crimes.
The Avengers followed Hendry’s Police Surgeon, in which he played police surgeon Geoffrey Brent. While Police Surgeon did not last long, viewers praised Hendry. Hendry was considered the star of the new series, receiving top billing over Macnee, and Steed did not appear in two episodes.
As the series progressed, Steed’s importance increased, and he carried the final episode solo. While Steed and Keel used wit while discussing crimes and dangers, the series also depicted the interplay—and often tension—between Keel’s idealism and Steed’s professionalism. As seen in one of the two surviving episodes from the first series, “The Frighteners“, Steed also had helpers among the population who provided information, similar to the “Baker Street Irregulars” of Sherlock Holmes.
The other regular in the first series was Carol Wilson (Ingrid Hafner), the nurse and receptionist who replaced the slain Peggy. Carol assisted Keel and Steed in cases, without being part of Steed’s inner circle. Hafner had played opposite Hendry as a nurse in Police Surgeon.
The series was shot on 405-line videotape using a multicamera setup. There was little provision for editing and virtually no location footage (although the very first shot of the first episode consisted of location footage). As was standard practice at the time, videotapes of early episodes of The Avengers were reused. Of the first series, two complete episodes still exist, as 16 mm filmtelerecordings. One of the episodes remaining does not feature Steed. The first 15 minutes of the first episode also exists as a telerecording; the extant footage ends at the conclusion of the first act, prior to the introduction of John Steed.